The Saucy 16

Recipe for the sauce

So this lesson marks an important beginning. I don’t normally post videos of licks or grooves here, but that’s all about to change! I plan on spending more time documenting little bite size and shareable drum phrases and other ideas I come across in my practice.

Today’s drum lick is a sixteen note fill played in beat groupings of (3) (3) and (2). You may or may not notice the sticking in the picture but it is: rrLRll-KK-LRll. Coordinate and move it around the drums as you see fit. Wherever your playing takes you the better. But this grouping is played twice, creating the (3) and (3). And for the tail, the lick is cut and modified into an 8 note phrase that wraps it all up so nicely with a shimmering bow on top. That looks like this: rrLRl-K-RL.

Tie it all together and voila, you’ve got the sauce!
Download the transcription here: (

Happy drumming,

Seven Steps to Heaven Drum Playthrough

Miles Davis wasn’t embellishing when he spoke so candidly about Tony Williams, “He’s just a motherf***er…there was nobody like him before or since.”

Turn on any 60’s era Miles Davis album with the legendary quartet of Carter, Hancock and Williams and it is no surprise that Tony William’s playing is the centerpiece. His explosive hits punctuated with a delicate softness and dynamic tied his style together into something where it seemed nothing was impossible. It was never bound to exclusively soft or loud. He had a freedom to play anything he wanted however he wanted. For instance, turning on Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch and the jazz-fusion supergroup Trio of Doom and it seems almost hard to imagine he’s playing on both records.

But his talent wasn’t without a cost. Tony wasn’t walking out of the womb ripping polymetric grooves. Or maybe he was, I mean I wasn’t there. But I like to imagine a newborn kid coming into this world doing that. That’s enough to make any mom proud.

At any rate though, practice was the permanent fixture to his career. Like Alan Watts always said about the performer (and I’m paraphrasing), but only when the performance is rehearsed to perfection and the display becomes more natural and woven into the fabric of movement and speech that the viewer can be fooled into thinking there was no rehearsal at all. As if those movements had always been apart of that performer. But it was just the opposite with Tony. He was quoted in Notes and Tones as saying, “I used to practice eight hours a day, every day! From about 1956 until about 1962. It was a whole ting, a whole period in my life where nothing else was happening.”

Tony’s emergence into the musical world was incendiary. He was 17 and just leaving high school. The year was 1962. A friend of Mile’s mentioned Tony Williams, a native to Boston, as being a replacement for the subsequent loss of both Jimmy Cobb and Frank Butler. He was a young kid but regarded as having tremendous talent. Eventually Tony and Miles came together, birthing their first album with the full list of members being Tony Williams, Ron Carter, Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. That accomplishment was one among many others that year and years to come. Also in 1962 he put out Vertigo with Jackie McLean, Evolution with Grachan Moncur, My Point of View with Herbie Hancock and Una Mas with Kenny Dorham.

Tony played on top of the beat, just a fraction above and it gave everything a little edge.

Tony’s relationship to the pulse and just how he positioned himself to the beat is what makes him so unique. It’s what made his style and voice so memorable from the beginning. Even on Seven Steps to Heaven, his first album put together with little rehearsal, showed that. Miles said, “Tony played on top of the beat, just a fraction above and it gave everything a little edge.” But it was this same edge that made Tony confront Miles about his edge seeming in contrast dull. Tony eventually called out Miles one day, asking him why he didn’t practice. Miles was supposedly missing a lot of notes during their sets. He lamented that he was “having a hard time keeping up with his young ass.” And who could blame him?

During the 60s Tony’s style and voice was shaping and growing more complex. His comping arrangements were becoming more elaborate as his playing became more polymetric and hemiolyzed(sp? not even the internet can help me here). His playing was unparalled and differed from the traditional straight ahead and sometimes boxiness of other players thinking in smaller phrasing of 4 or 8 with more common divisibility. Tony saw larger groupings and cut and shaped and assembled beats into more interesting mosaic patterns. For instance, a group of 12 beats filtered through Tony probably defied the typical 3 bars of 4 or 4 bars of 3. Instead his playing might reveal something like a grouping of 5 and 7. Over longer phrases, this reworking of new polymetric norms created a unique flow that glided over bar lines and made songs feel free of time. Totally unfettered. Some listeners during the era of Mile’s holy quartet even mistook their songs for the free jazz variety. Free jazz was in vogue throughout the 60s with the likes of Cecil Taylor, Peter Brotzman, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane pushing that genre to new limits. Those misunderstandings towards the quartet illuminated a creative truth behind their music and its capabilities: that through the rigorous application, exploration and re-imaging of song form, the group could create a sound that effectively felt outside of time altogether though paradoxically being so very much about the form.

In my mind that’s kind of the great irony behind Tony’s sound and the sound of so many other great artists. His playing felt so free like the cadence and formless bounce of a conversation but it was only through practice and repetitive gestures that unlocked this beautiful sense of freedom. Practicing sounds like anything but that.

So if you’ve lasted through that wave of historical details about Tony and his crew and didn’t click away or fall asleep through what I consider his philosophy of sound and even managed to suffer beyond this slightly self-effacing section about whether or not you read this far, well, I’ve got the video the title of this blog entry promised.
Seven Steps to Heaven has always been one of my favorite tracks from Mile Davis’s early years. And It’s been a few good months to learn and feel comfortable in this uptempo swing. So yeah, check this thing out already.

“Stro’s Place” Drum Play Through

Here’s another cover video following the flavor of my last. This tune is another Steve Fidyk track called Stro’s Place from his Big Band book.

It’s a hard swinging twelve bar blues full of all the big band glory that you would want and expect. It’s not a particularly wild or challenging drum arrangement. As with any big band playing, it’s more about keeping solid time, moving the band forward with momentum and foreshadowing the band’s hits.

I decided to work through this track for one reason, my low tempo swing time is pretty lame. It’s wonky. It’s closer to the front of the beat one moment and closer to the end of the beat the next. As always, it’s a work in progress, always under construction.

One lesson I took away from this (which ended up being somewhat of a holy moment) was the answer to my original question of how exactly does my swing time get better? Of course this question was already answered by Dave King years ago, and I of course already watched his video, and I of course never listened to his advice because I’m an idiot. I’m unsure of the video (otherwise I’d link it here) but he said something to the effect of, take away everything on your drum kit except the hi hat, ride cymbal and throne. Let the body only focus on the swing and how it sits on top of the 2 & 4 stomp with the hats.

I never stripped away the kit, but I knew that in playing this track my attention would be on keeping time, playing ad nau·se·am that ching a ling with a 2 & 4 stomp, producing the same effect from King’s suggestion.

And of course the other take away from this venture would be just to listen to Dave King in the first place when he says you ought to do something.

Grooved Pavement Drum Playthrough

So it’s been a hot minute since my last post covering a new track. Probably not a searing hot minute and probably not a scorching hot minute. More like a sizzling hot minute if anything, seeing as it was April since my last drum cover transmission.

This track today is from Steve Fidyk’s book Big Band Drumming at First Sight (and I’m dropping off a link because it’s a book that promises more than just playing big band styles, and if it isn’t in your bookshelf, I recommend getting a copy).
But the track is a hard grooving tune in the likes of Lee Morgan and his Sidewinder era, just with a little more sauce and pepper. And who doesn’t like a little extra sauce and pepper?

Fortifying Your Time – Alternating Stair Step Exercise

Here’s a little practice routine I’ve been developing. The two consistent motifs with the exercise of course are the slew of 16th notes for 9 bars and the hi hat click always on the 1. But it gets so much better. This exercise combines so many developments in one that I absolutely love it and can’t not share it’s magnificence.

Like many others, my practice entails on most days: foot development, hand development centered around my weak hand, playing better time and feeling a four pulse inside of odd groupings. Not always verbatim this, but usually some incarnation. So as I was learning many different exercises to focus on each individual weak point in my playing, it became somewhat of a delayed
ah-hah moment to just create something that focused all these into one. And voila, this sweet thing was born on a muggy Friday morning, 9 bars long and with a full head of hair.

As you read through it, the text guides you. I won’t echo a lot of what’s obvious below. But the exercise beings with a simple two beat phrase that accordions into a 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and closes back into itself to the 2, all while keeping the foundation consistently solid on beat 1 with the hi-hat. As always, to get the most benefit from this, starting slow and gradually moving to a faster tempo is the best practice. I noticed in the case of playing over the bar line, with the 5 especially, that my time keeping foot was adjusting to fit the 5 pulse. It’s a slight change that at faster tempos can happen without much notice. That’s why starting slow and internalizing where every note shifts along the one is the best approach!

And below is the .pdf to download or print or not download or not print or what have you!

2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 Practice Stair Steps

It’s all about that 1, baby.

Plaistow – “Phoebe” Playthrough

Today’s drum cover is from a group called Plaistow(listen to them here) , a jazz (or is it?) trio, but not in any sense you have probably ever heard. Their sound is a uniquely processed blend of minimalism and ambiance steeped in the cool, moody and modal sounds of jazz that take no interest in any set of normalized rhythms. It’s a group whose notes are held together by the certain truths like quality over quantity. An idea, though abstract here,  that is more relevant and profoundly resonate than ever before in our culture of things. Dizzying and deceptively simple. The band seems more interested in putting the listener into a deep trance than digging deep into melodies. And they’re certainly in no hurry to get from one set of ideas to the next, as a lot of the songs take their time to transform, like taking the scenic roads instead of the highway. But even in their slower tempos and more simply defined melodies the band manages to be anything but benign. You’re more likely to hear them play with shifting, interlocking rhythms. In Phoebe, the only “lead” the piano takes in the second half of the song is a turn into a 5/16 ostinato played on top of the bass and drums tightly sealed into a 9/8 groove. The result is a strange carousel that makes the otherwise unbudging current feel topsy-turvy and fragile,  like in any moment the thin thread holding the intersecting limbs together could split, leaving it all in pieces. But it never does.

All in all Plaistow is a strange geometry, definitely worth a listen or few, and unlike a lot of other stripped down experimental breeds out there right now.

That was a lot of text to try and convince you this band is cool and you should listen to their stuff. Of course it’s not one of the 25 songs the NY Times says will be the songs of our future, but then again, Plaistow is one of the bands whose songs are less about shanty politics than inventiveness assembled from familiar materials.


Enough of that, here’s some drums.

Jordan Rakei – “Add the Bassline” Playthrough

Here’s a new drum play through of one of my favorite tracks right now. Nothing to fancy. No chopping. Just clean, laid back flow and groove. It’s a song by Jordan Rakei. He’s one of major voices in the neo-soul movement right now. If you love pocket grooving and a velvet smooth vocal melodies, this UK based artist needs to be in your ears.

Anyways. Without further ado. Here’s the video. And a quick side note. This is the first video and recording using my new(bought it used but new to me) Sonor Safari kit. Very similar to the Questlove Breakbeat kit that is popping up just about everywhere. Bottom line: the sound coming out of $390 drumset is pretty killer. It’s got a smidge of compression but mostly EQ on this recording. So what you’re hearing is mostly the drums with the track’s clap on the snare.